FREEPORT, Grand Bahama – A six-member committee to review the Hawksbill Creek Agreement was announced by Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie on Thursday during a press conference at Grand Lucayan.
The committee is headed by Dr. Marcus Bethel, businessman and former Minister of Health. Other members include: Sir Baltron Bethel, member; Mr. James Smith, member; Mr. Kevin Seymour, member; Mr. Maurice Moore, member and Ms. Cassietta McIntosh, member. W. Albert Gray is a consultant, and Dr. Doswell Coakley, Ms. Chevonia McBride of the Ministry for Grand Bahama, and Mr. Terrance Roberts of the Ministry of Tourism, make up the Secretariat.
According to Prime Minister Christie, he called the press conference to “announce a timely significant intervention which my government is making with a view to charting a path forward to positively impact economic growth in Grand Bahama with a framework suited to the present and future.”
In August of this year, certain provisions of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement are due to expire, namely exemptions on business licence fees and real property tax. “For some time the Grand Bahama economy, despite the broad incentives and tax concessions under the Hawksbill Creek legislation, has remained stagnant and with limited exceptions, thus adversely impacting economic growth in the private sector and government revenues. In the absence of aggressive policy interventions to jumpstart a new round of development, and enhance returns on existing investments, Grand Bahama’s economic performance could remain sub-par relative to other islands in The Bahamas. Thus the expiration of these Hawksbill Creek Agreement incentives provides an opportunity for the Government to secure a comprehensive set of new arrangements which can spur economic development and increase the Island’s contribution to net fiscal receipts.”
Following the study of the economic situation in the Port area by international consulting firm McKinsey and Co., the government appointed the committee to meet and negotiate with representatives of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, investors, relevant public, private sector and community interests, so as to recommend to the government arrangements for securing both an economic package to promote more robust sustained growth, and a fiscal package that enhances Grand Bahama’s contribution to the government’s revenue base.
The main objectives of the committee are:
(i) Agree with the Grand Bahama Port Authority and principal licensees a long term economic development plan which both protect and promote the shipping, industrial, logistics, tourism, real estate and other commercial sectors as the focus for Grand Bahama Island;
(ii) Create a framework for immediate and long-term investment promotion on the island to attract investors which can operate assets competitively at a world class standard, and effectively and efficiently utilize the land resources with proper environmental safeguards;
(iii) Ensure that the mechanisms are in place to align the Grand Bahama Port Authority’s quasi-regulatory authority with the policies of the government and that a regulatory framework exists in keeping with present and changing international business best practices; and
(iv) Agree a suitable framework for property tax and business licence that would not impede economic growth, and contribute along with other suitable measures to the enhancement of the government’s revenue base.
The committee, he said, will carry out its duties with the support of McKinsey and Company and assisted by the a technical team from the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Finance, and the Office of the Attorney General.
The Prime Minister added that on the death of Sir Jack Hayward and Edward St. George, there are entities from around the world expressing an interest in purchase of the Grand Bahama Port Authority. The committee will be able to assist him, as Prime Minister, [and their work] “will be of immense value even though that is not within their terms of reference in the event of some purchaser manifesting in the near future with the intention to purchase, we would want to ensure that we are transparent and open in all that we do with the Bahamian people because there is a lot at stake here in Grand Bahama.”